Fresh Signs Point to Kim Jong-il Visit to China

      April 01, 2010 12:53

      There are predictions that North Korean leader Kim Jong-ill could arrive in Beijing as early as this weekend as a flurry of what looks like preparations are underway. Speculation about an impending visit had been around for some time, but now South Korean government officials are saying the chances are high, chiefly because what looks like an advance delegation making preparations for the visit has arrived in Beijing.

      On past occasions, these vanguards used to arrive in the Chinese capital two to three days ahead of Kim's visit.

      One source in Beijing familiar with North Korean affairs, said, about a dozen officials in charge of escorting the North Korean leader arrived in Beijing on Tuesday aboard an Air Koryo flight, and 20 others who look like bodyguards arrived aboard a train from Pyongyang. A team of North Korean military officers led by An Yong-gi, the head of external affairs for the North Korean army, also arrived with the group. "They appear to be traveling with An's group for security reasons," the source said. "The North Korean military delegation left for Africa on the same day, but the advance team has remained in Beijing and is discussing protocol and security matters with Chinese authorities."

      Top Chinese officials are returning to Beijing from overseas trips, fueling predictions of Kim's impending trip. Xi Jinping, who is in charge of North Korean affairs, arrived back in Beijing on Wednesday after a tour of Eastern Europe, while Jia Qinglin, the fourth top leader in the politbureau, is returning from a trip to Africa. In previous trips to China, the North Korean leader met the entire top leadership.

      There are forecasts that Kim may arrive not much later than Thursday given the schedules of high-ranking officials in both China and North Korea. Chinese President Hu Jintao is set to visit the U.S. on April 11 to attend a nuclear summit, while April 15 is North Korea's major holiday, the birthday of former leader Kim Il-sung.

      Still, not everyone is convinced, with observers saying no additional security measures have been spotted in the Chinese border town of Dandong, which is on the route Kim's armored train took during his previous visits. One trader in Dandong who deals with North Korea said, "Security is usually tightened two to three days ahead of the North Korean leader's visit and agents search for bombs, but no such signs are visible." Another piece of evidence against an impending visit is that Kim Yong-nam, North Korea's nominal head of state, is currently on a trip to Africa.

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